You may remember Sylvester as a Black, openly gay, androgynous entertainer—with a mean falsetto.
But he was born Sylvester James Jr., in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. As a little boy, he liked to fish and to sing in the church choir. But by age 11, he had moved on to playing with dolls and wearing his mother’s high heels. Clearly, Sylvester embraced his identity at an early age and left the rest of the world to catch up.
Whether he was too Black for white audiences or too gay for Black audiences, he was always unapologetically himself. Sylvester’s music reflected how he chose to live: fabulously free. Even when he became sick, he didn’t want his family and friends to remember him for how he died. He wanted them to remember how he chose to live.
He lost his battle with HIV/AIDS in 1988.
But Sylvester is still here. His panel celebrates his audacious pride in being queer, his love of self, and his connection to his community. Lastly, let’s not forget … his music remains the soundtrack for gay liberation.
The impact of Sylvester will never be forgotten, baby.
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